Always Look Up and Keep ‘Em Flying

“I’m going to do that!”

His older brother Chuck, channeling his inner Han Solo must have thought ‘Don’t get cocky, kid’; he thought his little brother was nuts. Chris Cash was around six years old, looking up at all the Air Force jets taking off and landing when he told his Grandpa Gus at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa his future plans. He was going to go to a military school and then fly planes. His mother, Rita Zvada, recalls vividly when Chris learned he was accepted to The Citadel. He worked at Boston Chicken in high school and was cleaning the kitchen when the staff heard a loud scream, fortunately nobody was hurt in the excitement. Rita had called to tell him the news, you’re in and going to The Citadel! Chris likely dropped the mop handle, perhaps sang into it, and pumped his fists as well. He dreamed it, believed it, and achieved it.

Captain Christopher Gustavo Cash

Fire and Heart

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” – Ferdinand Foch

It has been almost 20 years, and the fire and heart that Chris exemplified still is burning today. Those that knew Chris, his passion for family and friends, his service to others and our nation, and his faith are evident. I had the pleasure to talk with his Mom and learn more about him, along with his brother and other friends. I also talked with my wife, Angela, who dated Chris for several years and was getting to the place in their relationship where marriage and their future was in sight; they deeply loved and cared for each other. Rita is the mother-in-law Angela should have had, and how heartwarming it is that they have remained close and honored Chris since that fatal day.

I still have the note Rita sent me when Angela and I were dating in 2016, introducing herself and letting me know she had prayed for someone to come into Angela’s life since her son was taken too soon from them both. She prayed for our protection and looked forward to meeting me. Angela had told me about Chris and how heartbreaking it was for her, and that she and Rita leaned on each other and it brought them closer after his death; rare for a bereaved parent and daughter-in-law that should have been. Rita is proud of the relationship she has with Angela and considers her a daughter. When Angela let her know we were getting married she paid for her wedding dress. Understandably she felt it would be hard and emotional to attend, however, wanted to make sure Angela felt loved. What grace and strength. As Angela’s husband, and to others who are reading this and have similar circumstances, it is authentic to honor and respect the love of your spouse for someone they loved and lost, and have full confidence that they love you with all their heart. Both are true, and I would encourage and allow the emotional space for it.

For Memorial Day 2023, and honoring those that have served this year and in years to come, I want to share the story of Air Force Captain Chris Cash, who having just completed a tour in Afghanistan, was killed on his motorcycle by a hit and run driver while stationed at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma. As with the Memorial Day tribute of Shane Adcock shared last year, I want to honor Chris by getting to know him through pictures brought to life and talking to those who knew him, including my wife.

Rita came to visit us last month (April 2023) as a surprise for Angela’s birthday. I let her know I wanted to do this and to bring pictures of Chris, and she sure did. I enjoy learning about others, their hopes, dreams, struggles, passions, and pain as it reflects all of us. I shared with Rita that when I write I enjoy getting to know and learn from someone, and feel that they are sitting right next to me with their hand on my shoulder saying ‘Thanks for spending time with me, Ed.’

First of all, what a cool name…Chris Cash.

With Angela and Chris’ Mom, Rita Zvada

Why Ponder Life’s Breadcrumbs, When There is a Banquet

“Hey, my name is Christopher Gustavo Cash!”

He was akin to a Cuban Bruce Lee, with an Al Pacino ‘je ne sais quoi’ appeal. His grandfather emigrated from Cuba to Key West, Florida when he was two, with his mother (Chris’ great-grandmother), and his grandmother was a native of Key West. They made their living in the tobacco industry and the production of Cuban cigars. Unfortunately, the tobacco factory burned down and they moved to Tampa, which is where his grandparents met and put down roots.

From a young age, Chris seemed always up for adventures

Being a descendant of Cuban immigrants, Chris knew that people should not be judged by their looks or name. When he heard people while out at a restaurant at his table were making fun of Latinos, he stood up and said his full name, emphasis on the middle. After their eyes became as big as silver dollars, and some immediate self-reflection, I’m sure they stopped.

“Strong people stand up for themselves, but stronger people stand up for others.” – Suzy Kassem

I love the Cubs too, Chris

That encounter was nothing new to Chris, throughout his school years he would always come beside unpopular kids and those who did not have a lot of friends, letting them know he was their friend. Caring, and considerate, Chris always stuck up for others even at an early age. In the sixth grade, he proudly told his classmates that Martin Luther King’s dream lives on. His love for the military started early in life, and being near MacDill Air Force Base piqued his interest in flying planes. His brother Chuck, five years older, told me they were always close, and when their parents divorced (Chris was 4) they were always around their grandparents and cousins. They both got along and had normal sibling disagreements, however, they rode their bikes and played outside all the time as kids. Chuck told me that he looked up to Chris and he was always the better student. Chuck hated school and in fact, Rita sent him to Japan to be with his Dad (who lived on a military base) to give him a kick in the a** to finish high school. He responded well and even became fluent in Japanese. Chuck has always admired how his Mom raised them, being a single parent for ten years and working constantly. Chuck was very self-aware that Chris was a lot easier. I know parents (who are former kids themselves, which seems unbelievable to their own kids) understand that dynamic completely.

Looks like Chris just turned 6, brother Chuck is 5 years older

Nothing was easy, Chris was constantly studying or working towards his goals and understood that you don’t sweat the small things, and everything is just that. Even though he did not hear from his own Dad for years, he kept pressing on and when Rita got remarried, he absolutely loved his Step Dad, PJ. He viewed life with wide-open eyes as a banquet of experiences, growth, and learning that requires love, faith, action, forgiveness, compassion, and standing up for yourself and others. An example of this that Rita shared, her purse was stolen one day and she was absolutely distraught, as expected. She told Chris that there were 3 crosses in the purse as well, and Chris said to her: ‘How appropriate Mom, a thief steals a cross including those crosses of the thieves.’ Perspective and faith, and encouraging his Mom not to ponder the breadcrumbs.

Of Course, we all remember the school picture day…great one Chris

A Room with a View, and Then He Knew

Chris knew exactly what he wanted to do since that day at MacDill AFB when he was six years old. He kept that as a point on his compass throughout his school years. He graduated from Tampa Catholic High School in 1995 and competed in wrestling and swimming. He absolutely loved school and his teachers. His Third-grade teacher, Ms. Sylvia Greco, let him know she would attend his graduation from The Citadel and she did.

Wrestling Team at Tampa Catholic High School, Class of 1995

After high school, he moved to Greensboro, North Carolina to work for a year before he started at The Citadel. He got a job at Chili’s and that is where he met Angela. They dated for around 5 years and Rita loved Angela from the beginning.

Chris and Angela before he started at The Citadel

When Chris matriculated to The Citadel, he was a ‘knob’ for the first year, and addressed by upperclassmen as Knob Cash. Besides losing their street clothes, first-year Citadel cadets lose their hair as men’s hair is cut within a quarter inch of the scalp with their bald heads resembling doorknobs. For the first year, it was an intense regimen of military training, physical activity, academic studies, duties, emotional stress, and endurance. Chuck, who enlisted in the Air Force, thought he was nuts and knew the first year was hell, and told me they were expected to walk at 120 paces per minute. Through it all though, Chuck was impressed with his little brother and in awe that he made it through. It is no surprise that Chris was a Criminal Justice major and took it upon himself after his first year to stick up for other ‘knobs’ that came through the gates of The Citadel. After four years, there is a significant percentage who don’t make it, and Chris’ Citadel ring on the inside says “Thanks Mom, we made it.”

Angela and Chris, when he was at The Citadel and not there too

During his years there, Angela would visit him often and they truly loved and cared for each other and each other’s families. They were always in touch, and when Angela’s grandmother asked her to move to Greenville, North Carolina in 1999 as her health was failing, there was no question about what she needed to do. She and Chris loved and respected one another, and felt at the time before Chris started his Senior year, it was best for them to date other people with all the changes and circumstances going on in their lives. Rita was very sad when they split, however, this was not the end.

Graduation Day…”Thanks Mom, we made it”

One of his Citadel classmates, Avery Austin, let me know that Chris was always calm, collected, and mellow. He had the perfect temperament for getting through each day, and though Chris was grumpy in the mornings for their daily run, he always enjoyed spending time with him. They would go on trips together, and spend time with each other’s parents; Avery loved Papa Gus and Abuela (his grandmother) and misses Chris a lot.

“It is not the finest wood that feeds the fire of Divine love, but the wood of the Cross” – St. Ignatius of Loyola

Chris and his Papa Gus

His room at The Citadel had a view, and with that view, he knew he would make it from his first year. Chris could see the cross at the Chapel from his window, and be encouraged as he would hold onto that image, the love he felt for others, and what it meant to him throughout his years there.

Doing the Right Thing, AWACS and Video Games

Sometimes roads lead to unexpected destinations.

Dignity and honor defined Chris, and when his girlfriend Shannon became pregnant towards the end of his senior year, he stood by them and married her. He respectfully let Angela know, and after having a heartfelt conversation, she knew he was doing the right thing as well and stood by him too. The marriage unfortunately was short and did not work out, however, he was blessed with a daughter, Leah, who he loved unconditionally. Chris fought for custody of Leah, however with the nature of being a Captain in the Air Force and being deployed for long stretches of time, Leah grew up with her Mom and her parents. That said, she was always close to his heart.

Leah smiling proudly with her Dad

Chris was sworn into the Air Force after graduating from The Citadel in 2000 by Chuck, and after 9/11, both of them started deploying. Chuck was a Gun Truck Commander doing road security in and around the troops off the bases. Chris was an AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) pilot which served as a command and control battle management, surveillance, target detection, and tracking platform. Chris likened it to being paid to play video games and he absolutely LOVED his job. Chris was deployed to Afghanistan from 2002-03 and he and his brother actually worked a few missions together, in different capacities. Chuck would call the AWACS when he needed information as he was on the ground and Chris was dealing with airstrikes.

“Bravery comes along as a gradual accumulation of discipline.” – Buzz Aldrin

Chris with his AWACS aircraft, and he absolutely LOVED it

Chris being sworn in by Chuck, and Rita making sure she has great pictures of them both together

With her sons serving in the Middle East, Rita was immensely proud of them and she shared that she always put up a shield and braced herself for the worst; she did not watch the news or want to even hear music introducing the news. She was always on edge, and with both of her sons deployed at the same time, it was just amplified. Chuck conveyed that the hardest job in the military is being a spouse, however, I am sure being a parent ranks right up there as well.

When Chris returned home at the end of 2003, he was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. Rita and his family could partially exhale knowing he had safely returned from his year-long deployment. It was also a hopeful time as Angela and Chris started communicating again, as they knew the love they had for each other was still there, and the excitement of a new beginning and circumstances.

Chris in his element on the AWAC

The Bonds of Friendship and One More Look at the Night Sky

‘Hey Chris, I have not seen you in awhile, can you come over?’

After his return from duty at the end of 2003, there are a few months of debriefing and transition. It was around midnight, the night of August 22nd-23rd, 2004. Chris had gone to bed and some of his friends who had not seen him in a long while called and asked him to come over so they could catch up. He told them he was tired and would catch them later. However they did not stop calling, begging him to come so they could see him and catch up. Evidently, many of them had not seen him since before he left for Afghanistan in 2002. Being the loyal friend always being there for others, and wanting to stop the phone from ringing (he did have a roommate after all, and trying to be considerate) he agreed and got up, got dressed, and hopped on his motorcycle. His roommate asked if he was sure he was alright to drive, seeing as it was the middle of the night. He said Chris put his hands on his hips, paused, and took a long look at the star-filled Oklahoma sky before starting his bike and heading out. That was the last he saw him.

“Life. It’s not just about watching the stars. It’s about shining with them.” – Bhuwan Thapaliya

Some times spent with Chris, and only wish there was more…

On his way to spend time with his friends, and traveling around 37mph, he was hit by a car, knocked off his motorcycle and seriously injured. Nobody saw it as the roads were empty at that hour, however, someone came upon him and was able to call 911. He was taken to the hospital and did not survive his injuries.

Rita had last spoken to Chris on August 19th, her birthday, and last saw him Father’s Day weekend. Angela had just visited him in Oklahoma a couple weeks prior as they were dating again and with her getting to the end of finishing her degree, were planning their future together. Chuck does not remember his last conversation with his brother however does remember exactly where he was and what transpired. His Citadel brother, Avery Austin, was just about to begin his deployment when he heard and was devastated. And his third grade teacher, Ms. Sylvia Greco, had to leave her school immediately as she was so emotional and distraught.

Father’s Day Weekend, 2004…the last time Rita and Chuck saw Chris

For the military officers charged with this duty of notifying family, this is a heartbreaking task. For Chris, his next of kin was his daughter Leah, who was three years old at the time. When the officers showed up to notify her, they looked at Leah and knew it had to be an adult and informed Leah’s Mom, and Chris’ former spouse, Shannon. She immediately calls Rita and informed her of the news. Rita’s motherly instincts kicked in as she could not believe it, and was emotional as one would expect. Shannon had her Dad get on the phone with Chris’ Step-Dad, PJ. They informed PJ what happened, and were in a state of shock as they discussed the details of what transpired. In later conversations, Rita spoke with Chris’ roommate, John, and he could not get over it either and wish he had done more to stop him from going. He sent Rita a lot of his possessions for her to have.

For Chuck, the gates of Joint Base Camp Bullis outside San Antonio will always be a memory prompter. As he and his mates were headed back on base, he found out the base commanders were looking for him. Chuck thought someone got in trouble. They told him he needed to go to the Armory and turn in his weapons, Chuck knew either someone died (perhaps grandparent) or he was getting arrested, and he knew he was not getting arrested. Though encouraged, he did not sit down and they informed him his brother had died in a traffic accident. His belongings were packed for him and they put him on a plane to Tampa, there was absolute silence from the airport to his parents house.

For Angela, having just spent a few weeks with Chris the first part of August, their relationship was full of excitement with the change in scenery and circumstances. They both appreciated each other and made the other a priority, and looked forward to planning their future. Angela spoke to Chris a couple days beforehand and they were planning her next trip to Oklahoma in the fall, around Halloween. With her finishing up her degree, and Chris with a job he absolutely loves, their future was exciting to plan and think about. They truly grew as a couple and loved one another, and gained strength through the struggles to sincerely appreciate the time together. Angela was trying to get in touch with Chris that week and could not reach him, so she called Rita and Rita told her what happened. Angela was heartbroken. A future that never happened, that was being planned to happen, that should have happened was all gone.

Angela and Chris, the last time they saw each other, August 2004

For Avery, Chris was one of the first deaths he experienced of someone he was so close with, and to this day he has not rode his motorcycle even though he has one, in deference to his Citadel brother and lifelong friend.

I have shared that are times in life when through storms and fog, purpose may find you. During this time, a fog may set in, called the Fog of a Broken Heart, and I am reminded about what Max Lucado has written for those that travel through it:

“…it slyly imprisons the soul and refuses easy escape. It’s a silent mist that eclipses the sun and beckons the darkness. It’s a heavy cloud that honors no hour and respects no person. It disorients and makes it hard to see the road.”

The crash site in Oklahoma

Getting and Growing through the Grief

“There is not a pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” – Corrie Ten Boom

I find it hard to articulate the relationship between grief and love; what I do know is that grief is love, and an expression of it. However in my reading and understanding of the dynamic, it is not the exact same love we had for someone who was once living now transformed into the grief we have for them once they’re gone. They were very much in our lives then left a gaping hole, and grief feels bigger and greater than the gaping hole itself. Perhaps it is the Presence of Absence which opens up a new depth of love, one we didn’t know existed, one that simply couldn’t be accessed while they were still alive and predicated on the void they left in the world. And when I think about it more, it makes sense.

Litsa Williams, Program Director and Co-Founder of explains this well:

When someone dies, their absence becomes its own presence. We come to love and hate their void. It represents all that is gone, all that we loved, all that (we) miss. We hate the reality it represents – that they are physically missing from the world. But we also love the reality that it represents – that our love for that person is so great that they are still “here”, even when they are no longer physically here. We grab ahold of their absence and cling it as tightly as we can. We still visit and revisit our memories, knowing they hold both the deepest joy and the deepest pain. We marvel that the depth of our love, our loss, and our grief. We want the grief to end and we want it never to end, all at once.

With their absence, we learn something we couldn’t know while they were living. We learn just how deeply we were capable of missing them. We learn just how much pain their void in our lives could cause. We learn how willing we are to lean into that pain in order to keep them close. Though we can imagine what it will be like to lose someone we love, when it happens, we learn it was actually unimaginable. And in that gap between what we imagined and what we never could have imagined, lies a type of love we meet for the first time in our grief.

When I asked Rita what she learned and appreciated about her son, she conveyed he was ambitious from a young age, kind, funny, treated all equally, and stood up for others. Chris never through rank around and never expected anything; he loved his family, career, Angela, and his daughter and was a true friend to his friends, even to the final night on earth. The lesson she learned from Chris was to serve, in anything you do, with your whole heart. Rita has been supported through bereaved parents conferences where they can lean on each other and does things to remember Chris; she also spends time volunteering with various organizations. She certainly has every reason to let life’s turbulence get the best of her yet she is fully confident about Turning the corner at Grace, with love as her fuel.

Rita will always carry Chris with her

Chuck had a hard time with his brother’s death, after the funeral rather than stay in Tampa and be reminded of Chris everywhere he went and seeing his family heartbroken, he had his commanders send him to his unit in Iraq. He knew he needed to keep his mind elsewhere, for now. When he got there, his unit was afraid of him due to the stress of Chris’ death, his mental state, and of course, access to weapons. He knew he had not dealt with it and one day he was walking with his partner and absolutely broke down crying after an ambulance went by, he thought of his brother being in an ambulance. He started thinking should have stayed stateside longer, and was calling Rita often; there was a time where he was at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) and a mortar hit the building next door as he was on the phone with his Mom. Unnerving to say the least.

What can’t be ignored is that Rita almost lost both her sons. Chuck was a Gun Truck Commander and in 2004 there were a lot of operations in and around Fallujah, Iraq. They would go in at night, as they could see and their enemy could not see them well. On the way back from patrol at sunrise on November 6th, 2004, his truck was hit by an RPG, fortunately all three of them survived. However, Chuck suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and was helicoptered out and sent via medivac to Germany; even the priest was giving him last rites. Chuck turned out to be fine and spent over six weeks in the hospital before he was back in Tampa, retired medically. He told me it was rough when he first got back, having not fully dealt with the loss of his brother. He went through a divorce, was drinking heavily, got three DUIs, until he woke up one day and checked himself into Rehab at the VA hospital. He was locked down for 60 days and started getting his life back together.

Chuck (on left) and his crew unbelievably survived this hit on their truck by an RPG, outside Fallujah, Iraq

God bless you as well, Chuck. You loved your brother, your family, your brothers and sisters in arms, and friends, and most importantly yourself. He knew Chris accomplished more by 26 years old than many do in a lifetime and does not know one person ever saying a negative thing about him. You certainly exemplified brotherly love.

For Angela, her love for Chris will always be there. When I talk to her about it, she is very open, authentic, vulnerable, and keeps his memory alive. I want her too as well. She has a tattoo on her left wrist for him, and has stayed closed to Rita and PJ throughout the years, she has gone to several bereaved parents conferences with Rita for support. It was especially heartwarming for me to meet Rita for the first time this year, and know that memories of Chris will always be welcome. So talk about him all you want!

Angela will always carry Chris and be close to Rita, her Tattoo to honor and remember himChris was part of Echo Company at The Citadel

Keep ‘Em Flying!

Chris grandmother, Rita’s Mom (Abuela), would always say to Chris, Keep ‘Em Flying! As an AWACS pilot, that was his mission was to keep the fighter pilots and themselves, flying.

In order to Keep ‘Em Flying, your eyes need to be open, and kept open. Chris, by his example, always did that for himself and what he wanted to do, and what he stood for in his life. No matter what challenge was thrown at him, he led by example which encouraged and pushed others to be better versions of themselves.

Let’s all Keep Flying, and help others fly, with fire and heart, and eyes open.

It has been great to spend time with you Chris, and looking at your pictures, I appreciate sitting next to me as I write your story. I know that you and Angela were not able to live out the future you both had in store for each other, and wanted to reassure you that love truly never ends. Angela loves you and I will always honor and respect the love you had with her, and having now met your Mom, can’t help but to love her too!

Angela designed and drew this picture for Rita to honor Chris

I know you did some side gigs as a DJ, and this one is for you, and at the same time speaks to all of us; to encourage no matter the circumstances and have faith to keep pushing on. Your example encouraged all those in your life Chris, and you still Keep ‘Em Flying, with our eyes open, including me.

Thank you for serving and God Bless,


A Life Lived Full Throttle and Full Hearted

It was time for a nightly study break at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Slice of pizza? Forget it! This one involved a moonlight off-road adventure in farm country.

Captain Shane Timothy Adcock, May 24th 1979 – October 11th, 2006

In talking to one of Shane’s best friends that he had known since middle school, he best described him as a lifeboat. And on this night, I learned why. Shane was not with Brian Jalbert and others on this night, he had another purpose; to go get them. Once their car got stuck in the mud with the catalytic converter throwing off sparks, this study break was turning into a potential all-nighter that had them walking through farm fields, going to houses where they could see a porch light, and asking local residents to use their phone around midnight. If only I could have talked to someone who answered the door that night when several muddy college students showed up on their doorstep. It had an early morning “Now, I got a story for you…” type newscast vibe from Farmville all over it. That would be shortly followed by parents’ phone calls to each of them. All of us reading this, as former kids ourselves, know the feeling of being on the receiving end of that conversation well.

A kind farmer offered their phone, and Brian without hesitation knew to call his best friend he had known since middle school and was his classmate at Longwood as well, Shane Adcock. To him, Shane was a lifeboat, and with no hesitation whatsoever, he came and got them all. The surfer kid from Virginia Beach he had grown up with would always drop whatever he was doing to help you out.

Shane and Brian Jalbert enjoying the view above and below the ocean in Hawaii

It amazes me constantly how much our lives can serve as ripple effects for others, having experienced the joy of being with them, and having their lives be part of hitting our own life shores. His friend Brian Jalbert’s oldest son is named Mattox Shane Jalbert, to honor his best friend. Several of Shane’s fraternity brothers from Longwood University have done the same, no matter whether girl or boy, and have given their children Shane as their middle name.

In honor of Memorial Day this year, and for years to come, I wanted to share the story of Army Captain Shane Adcock, who was killed in the line of duty supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom on October 11, 2006. The story can be read here, however, I wanted to honor him by getting to know him through the people that did, his parents and friends.

Hang Loose Hawaii with Rob O’Connor, Shane, Kenney Harmon, and Brian Jalbert

If I could build a DeLorean with a Flux Capacitor, I would want to go back and meet Shane. Thank you Maris and Vera, and his family and friends, for the privilege of allowing me to spend some time with you and knowing he treated everybody as a friend, also with him to write this story.

Looking towards the Sky with Grandad Papa

Hey, that is an F-14!

His love for the military started early in life, spending time with his Grandfather and Navy Veteran in his early years in Virginia Beach. He would look up at the sky and as the jets from Oceana Naval Air Station buzzed overhead, he soon knew them all. He spent the first 13 years of his life in Virginia Beach, with his sister Shannon, before moving to Mechanicsville, Virginia. His Mom, Vera, described him as inquisitive, curious, wanted to know the how and why, easy-going, observant, and respectful.

Young Shane with his sister, Shannon

During his school years, he was active in Boy Scouts (Troop 521), was an avid reader, lover of Legos, played soccer, wrestled, went camping, rock climbing and repelling, surfing, and rugby. Being the renaissance man that he was, he was perfectly comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans, being at a Broadway show, and serving as a volunteer firefighter at Company 10 Firestation in Ashland, VA. He never shied away from competition, to the point of wrestling at the lowest weight possible in 9th grade; he would enjoy the largest ice cream sundae one could imagine to make sure he made the weight class. Shane was a loyal friend, and when one of his best friends (who was born on the same day as him) had failing kidneys, Shane would stay with him while he was on dialysis during a week-long Boy Scout camping trip out of state.

Shane and his Mom before a Scouting adventure

He and his sister Shannon (3 years younger) were typical siblings growing up, knowing full well that for those of us that have siblings, the parents play referee now and then. They were close, and I am sure appreciated the presence of each other as the years went by. They both loved being with their family, including their grandparents. During one Christmas Break, when home from college, Shane and Shannon took a spur of the moment surfing trip to Sebastian Inlet, Florida. After graduating from his Field Artillery Basic Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in December 2003, Shane drove to Harrisonburg, VA to see her graduate from James Madison University.

Shane and his sister, Shannon

Shane and Shannon, Surfin’ USA

Maris and Vera shared that they were stewards of God’s gift to them of their son, whose own deep faith goes back to when he was 9/10 years old and accepted Christ. Shane was active in the youth group at his church, and his faith deepened during Army Basic Training in Oklahoma; in fact, the church he attended there on Sunday mornings was held in a bar.

Maris, Vera, Shannon, and Shane Adcock

Graduating in the Class of 1997 from Atlee High School, Shane received a scholarship and embarked on his college years at Longwood University in Farmville, VA. While there his last two years, he participated in the Simultaneous Member Program where he was a member of the Virginia National Guard attached to Sandston, VA, and the ROTC program at Longwood.

Knowing that kids teach parents too, especially what is to be valued, I asked Maris and Vera what they learned from Shane. It is live life to the fullest, show love to those you love, it is OK to question, respect the position, personal respect needs to be earned, forgive those who wrong you, and don’t take anything for granted.

Stand Tall and Walk Proud

If there was one thing very clear about Shane, he knew who he was and lived life fully with no regrets. Unfortunately, those close to him expected to spend more time with him than was granted.

His decision to join the Army came from the experiences of his Grandfather Papa and the stories both he and his Dad shared with him. Maris shared that it was hard on him with his Dad gone so long on Navy deployments, they were typically 10-11 months, with Maris left with little time to be with his Dad as a kid. Shane learned that the Army typically has shorter deployments and decided to proceed and that would be best for him. His grandfather administered the oath when he was sworn in.

After doing ROTC at Longwood and graduating in 2003, he was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Trained in Field Artillery, his first tour of duty was to Afghanistan in 2004 where he served for 14 months; he was embedded with Special Forces on the Afghan/Iraq border and was a Forward Observer helping with field targeting. During this deployment, Shane experienced the first loss of a soldier killed in action.

Captain Shane Adcock, with his Captain bars

It was when he came home, that his life took a turn that only God could foresee. During some R&R in October 2004, his fraternity brothers from Longwood threw a Welcome Home party, where he met his future wife, Jennifer, who was from Hawaii and was in Richmond for the party with her roommate from Duke. His fraternity brothers thought they would be a great match, and one can only think of all the ‘what ifs’ that did not occur so they could meet. It was email and phone for the first few months of dating and even went on a double date with his parents to a Washington Nationals game.

On June 4th, 2006, Jen and Shane wed on the Big Island of Hawaii, on the Kohala Coast; it breaks my heart knowing that they did not have long together. Two weeks later Jen returned to school at Duke University and Shane was sent to Fort Sill for special training that would qualify him to direct close air support from the Air Force. He was one of the few throughout the Army who had received training for the Military Transition Team (MiTT) as a Fire Direction Officer and help the Air Force with targeting.

His sister Shannon got married in August 2005 and after his deployment to Afghan, his next tour of duty became Iraq.

We never know when is the last time

Proud, yet somewhat fearful. As Shane’s parents, as any would, those were their feelings each time Shane got deployed. In Afghanistan, they would talk every Sunday (Skype if possible). During the heartfelt conversation about the last time they saw their son, it reminds me of how we all vividly remember and treasure the details of that time itself.

After completion of his special training at Fort Sill, Shane returned to his unit in Hawaii to prepare for the upcoming deployment to Iraq. Upon hearing news of his upcoming deployment, Maris and Vera decided to do something to their son that he had done to them at home while he was at Longwood, just show up and surprise him. Vera felt called to see Shane and conveyed she felt uneasy about his next assignment, it was very violent in Iraq at this time. They planned the surprise with Jen, who was there with him.

Shane was “heads down, chin up” trying to pack and I’m sure there was a “Shane, can you get the door?!” from Jen upon hearing a knock. Eyebrows and arms went up when Shane opened the door and saw his parents had flown from Virginia to see him off. They all went and had dinner together (Roy’s) and agreed on steaks when he got back. They met him the next day and drove to the base where Shane needed to be an hour later. At midnight that night, they all met and drove to the base for his deployment. He got his weapon and he boarded a bus for a plane to Baghdad.

The picture below is the last time they saw Shane, there is nothing more poignant and moving than he and his Dad reaching out hands for each other, which in every which way says ‘Son, we love you and are proud of you’. I can’t keep my eyes dry knowing this was the last time Maris, Vera, and Jen saw Shane while not knowing it was the last time.

A parent’s love for their child is always within reach.

For Maris, the last time he heard his son’s voice was September 17th, 2006. Shane flew a flag on top of the Forward Operating Base and sent it to him for his birthday. They could not talk for long, and thought about riding their motorcycles together when he got back.

The Day the Earth Shook

Bliss, and then heartache.

Shane’s unit had deployed to Iraq early as he was filling in for an officer who had been killed; he had volunteered for the role. Vera said he was fearful of the last mission and her last conversation with him was at the hospital when he called to say he had a ‘business trip’ coming up; she told him to be safe, that she loved him and that they would talk when he got back. She knew he always prayed before missions.

What they would talk about is the excitement of his two nephews. His sister Shannon had just given birth to twin boys, and Vera was in the hospital visiting her daughter and grandkids. Pure bliss.

Shane was on his way back from the ‘business trip’ (his term for a mission) as his Humvee drove through the town of Hawijah. He was in the passenger seat, with the driver right next to him and the gunner in the rear. There were several Humvees in the convoy that were in front of them on the same route. As they went down a street, they saw a bunch of kids playing, and then, without having time to maneuver and respond without risking the kids, someone jumped out and threw a hand-thrown improvised explosive device (IED) at their Humvee and instantly killed Shane. The driver and gunner survived.

The knocks at the door came, at 10pm on October 11th, 2006. Not only for Maris and Vera, but for his wife Jen as well, who was studying at Duke. She was in the library and the officers had to wait until she returned to her dorm residence to convey the news, while at the same time coordinating the timing with informing Shane’s parents. Pure devastation and heartache.

There were 5 days between birth and death for Maris and Vera, bliss then heartache.

That day, October 11, 2006, there was a major earthquake on the Kohala Coast on the Island of Hawaii where Jen and Shane married, and it rained heavily.

It seemed that God was so moved and was crying too.

The bridge named in honor of Shane, Atlee Exit off I-95, in his hometown of Mechanicsville, VA

Shane Knew

They wondered if Shane knew about his new nephews. What they did know is that Shane had the largest contingent of non-military people at his funeral when he was laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery, section 60, where there are many Afghan and Iraq casualties.

For Maris and Vera, the grief would show up when they least expected it and then they would be right back where they were. They got used to it, and it really hit them when Shane’s unit came home and he was not there. The first year for them was a nightmare, something would be said or seen reminding them of Shane and they would understandably sob at times. The blessing of Shannon’s twins helped them tremendously get through the grief; kids have a way of helping wounds of the heart. Vera had a dream where Shane told her to take care of Shannon, and her employer was very flexible and she worked part-time while helping care for her grandkids.

Shane’s army friends have helped support them. The driver of the Humvee did come to visit them and shared with them about Shane and the event that day. Many of his friends in the Army have shared they felt they let him down. Through many encounters with Shane’s Army friends, Maris and Vera have attempted to reassure them that what happened to Shane was part of God’s greater plan and there was nothing they could have done to change the outcome. Maris and Vera have tried to ease their discomfort and loss.

Shane’s wife, Jennifer, receiving the flag at Shane’s funeral at Arlington Cemetery

May and October continue to be tough months to get through, with May 24th being Shane’s birthday. They continue to talk about Shane and share stories with their grandkids and participate in events in which they feel Shane would want them.

What gave them reassurance was when they received Shane’s laptop from his service. They opened it, and turned it on to see what Shane saw. The screensaver had a picture of Shane’s new nephews.

He was an uncle and he knew. Thank God he knew.

A Mural in Colorado Springs

I know the memories of him and his sister of when Shane was their babysitter must be a treasure. The innocence of those days paired with the hard reality of when he found out Shane would not be coming home; was like a dagger to the stomach. His sister felt the same. Chris Woychak, and his sister Brittany, were cared for as kids by Shane often.

Shane, Chris, and Brittany

The parents knew each other well, so when he saw the silhouette of his Dad coming into his room late the night of October 11th, 2006, after the Adcock’s called them, struck a chord and it took him a full day to come to terms with reality. He went to his Middle School counselor the next day. The funeral was hard, along with coming to terms with how it happened and all the what-ifs.

In talking to Chris and his memories of Shane, he will forever be influenced by his life and the way he lived. Shane was the life of any get together and was always dedicated to his own fitness and spiritual fitness. For Chris, the biggest aspect that stood out to him was Shane’s Christian faith and it reaffirmed his own.

Chris is now an Air Force Captain (Shane suggested the Air Force to him) and throughout his school years he played football, was part of Troop 521 Boy Scout Troop (Shane’s Troop), and made Eagle Scout (like Shane). His sister Brittany is now married into the military as well.

Chris went to the Air Force Academy, and having the presence of Shane forever by him was left for future generations that come to Colorado Springs. Go to Vandenburg Hall, Cadet Squadron 16. Shane’s life lived out according to John 15:13 is a mural on the wall so he can be remembered. Chris took it on as a project to honor Shane.

Mural honoring Shane at the Air Force Academy

Shane is still always close by to Chris

Loving and Living “2 Extreme”

Having spent the last month getting to know Shane through his family and friends, I can’t think of a better example of being the friend you want to have; Shane was exactly that. I learned of Shane’s story through one of his classmates and friends from Atlee High School, Sabrina Booth Civils, who remembers him October 11 each year and heartwarmingly let’s the world know how much he is missed, that day she found out and going over to hug his parents, and at his funeral; she will never hear Taps the same way again. His parents want him to be remembered as a man who loved God, family, and country. He was always willing to make sacrifices for others – be it a volunteer firefighter as a teen, buying food for a homeless person, taking a little person to a dance, jumping out of a car to push a broken down car, or stopping to help at an accident. He lived his life fully with no regrets.

Shane would want us to live honorably with others in our lives, and show gratitude and a willingness to be helpful.

Causes that were close to Shane’s heart that you can support include the Fisher House Foundation and Breast Cancer Research. There is also an endowed scholarship at Longwood University and a scholarship being administered by the Hanover Education Foundation for an Atlee High School Senior.

Spending time writing this has elicited a range of emotions, including tears as I can’t help to take a long hard look at how I’m living my own life, the strength of my Christian faith, and reflecting on the time and moments spent with loved ones, with the intent on pursuing purposeful and worthwhile adventures that my loved ones would want me to fulfill. This was one of Shane’s favorites, and the message resonates with all.

His license plate said “2 Extreme”. That is how Shane loved and lived.

We can do the same.

Thanks Shane, we bleed as one my friend.

God Bless and Let’s Honor and Remember those who served and lived out John 15:13.

Until Next Time,


What if we all just asked

The need to belong. We all long for it.

I was not sure I belonged, or could simply run that far, then he just asked. I have learned over the years, that we all run further when we run together.

It was a hot summer evening at a swim meet where our daughters were competing, my friend and neighbor Brian Brown asked if I would be interested in training with him and some other guys for the Richmond Half Marathon in the fall of 2014. At that time I just started running while Brian was taking on triathlons. He encouraged me, wanted me to run with them, and knew that for my first race ever I could get to that finish line. That time we ran together each week built self-confidence, and in turn, fueled more running than I ever dreamed of accomplishing. I even grew to enjoy it, and for that, I will always think back to that evening. Thank you Brian for asking, and reassuring me that I belonged.

The neighborhood 2014 RVA Half Marathon Training Crew after crossing the finish line

As part of my quest to bring us all together, I thought it would be good for all our souls to hear Brian’s story and the importance of belonging; it is not as easy as it sounds and it’s actually incredibly hard work. It is not the same as simply fitting in, showing up, signing up, or crossing the aisle.

“Belonging, is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.” – Brene Brown

We are living in a time when true belonging is becoming rarer and more desperately needed, and I know Brian’s story and insights will reinforce that it takes a special act of courage to experience true belonging.

Minding the Dividing Line

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Theresa

His grandfather spent his life a step above being a slave, as a sharecropper in the tobacco fields. For a reminder from the history books, a sharecropper is a person who lives and grows crops on land owned by someone else, paying the rent by giving the owner a share of the crops. After the U.S. Civil War (1861–65), many former slaves became sharecroppers. Because they were obliged to give up huge amounts of their crops, many led harsh lives of poverty.

Talking to Brian about his grandfather, parents, and upbringing, brought a source of strength as they instilled a strong work ethic and mindset in him. Born in Prince Georges County, Maryland (DC Suburb), Janice Brown, his Mom, was a phone operator (remember those?!) with the federal government, and Richard Brown, his Dad, a mechanic; they divorced when he was four and Brian was raised by his Mom. However, his Dad was always a constant presence in his life. In middle school, Brian and his Mom moved to Richmond, VA where he attended Mosby Middle School and Armstrong High School. The places where he lived were just above the projects, some had no running water.

I had one of these too Brian

A younger Brian, and how his Mom and Dad picture him

Though he felt his family protected him from racism, he certainly experienced it.

Where? At the dividing line.

During his high school years, Brian and his classmates at Armstrong High School knew where it was, all they had to do was travel up Route 360. Armstrong sits at the intersection of Interstate 64 and Route 360, which runs from Richmond to the Northeast through the Northern Neck of Virginia. Go past the Hanover County line, it was known as shotguns and pickup trucks. When venturing past it, he would get asked “What are you doing up here?” A simple road game for high school football was an uncomfortable event, as the ‘caste system’ between whites and blacks was real. He not only experienced it in high school, but it was also evident during his college years with all the subcultures at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Brian did not go past that dividing line (geographic or racial) unless he had to, and what it gave him was a feeling of not being equal, that he did not belong.

Brian with his Mom and Dad, Janice and Richard Brown

Hard Moments and Courageous Love

“When you have endure the worse situations, you build the courage and confidence to cope with any other situations.” — Lailah Gifty Akita

It was a chance meeting at the VCU Student Commons, and soon after Brian found where he belonged, and it had nothing to do with geography. Loving and caring are an anchor that stabilizes uncertainty during those hard times. And that is with his wife Regina, and daughter Brianna. They met as students at VCU, and their strong friendship just kept growing. I have had the privilege to be in the same neighborhood with them as we watched each other’s families change and grow.

Regina is of mixed race, her mother white and her father black. Her parents were married in the 60’s when interracial dating was generally frowned upon. Initially, their relationship was not accepted by their parents but Regina being born brought the families closer together. Sadly, Regina’s father died in a car accident shortly before her 3rd birthday. Regina and her mom moved to Virginia to live close to her father’s sister and because it was a good midpoint between her mom’s family in New Jersey and her dad’s family in South Carolina. They faced several incidences of racism. When they moved to a predominantly black neighborhood in downtown Newport News, her mother received messages to let her know that she was not welcome. They stayed anyway, joined her uncle’s all black church and became immersed in the community despite the challenges that came with being biracial.

A proud Dad, with his wife Regina and daughter Brianna at her High School Graduation

For his daughter Brianna, now a Freshman at Virginia Tech, she knew she was protected by her parents. They conveyed to her that life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% of how you deal with it. She was active in school, a star on the varsity volleyball team, and has wonderful friendships. Brian and I can relate as Dads of daughters, and how we are so protective of them, we know there they add another dimension to our soul; softens and adds tenderness and at the same time makes it more valiant and protective.

Brianna enjoying the scooter just as her Dad did

Snapshots in time: Game, Set, Match…Dad and Brianna sharing a moment at one of her Volleyball Matches, he captures a moment before she goes out the door, and at the Father/Daughter Dance

When he shared that Brianna and a good friend of hers, who was a white male, were spending a lot of time together, and that the other Dad told him not to see her, I could feel the protective anger, yet sad confusion that overcame him and how he had to explain it to his daughter. When he should not have to! As I have more of these conversations I become more convinced how often it is the adults who have racial myopic issues.

The Past has yet to Pass

“Honor belongs to those who never forsake the truth even when things seem dark and grim, who try over and over again, who are never discouraged by insults, humiliation, and even defeat.” – Nelson Mandela

As a child, he knew of another dividing line not to cross, and that was not being able to go south of Richmond into Chester, Virginia as the KKK was quite active.

Though we all no doubt learn from the bad and good of our pasts, I still scratch my head as to why we won’t leave it there. Talking with Brian about race and race relations only reinforced it. Can you imagine living in a neighborhood at present and because of your skin color some friends of yours are asked how much you charge to cut grass? He has been called the ‘n’ word and heard it being used and often he is at the end of angry reactions when riding his bicycle. He was pulled over by a police officer in his car for what he deemed was ‘swerving’ (twice), and when riding his bike he constantly has to think about the route he takes. Pickup trucks will at times come intentionally close, and he will need to pull over and stop.

“If you want to run fast go alone, if you want to run far bring a friend” – Brian with some fast friends

All I am left to think after trying to comprehend this is: seriously?

Yet, it does not unnerve Brian, the times I have been with him and witnessing his involvement with his family and in our community, he will not allow others’ actions to have power over him.

We talked about Black Lives Matter and the impact it has had over the last few years. Brian shared that though he agrees wholeheartedly with the message, the methods leave much to desire. Riots generally result in a ‘group people and divide’ strategy which only makes situations, events, and communication worse. He feels the movement has been infiltrated with mobs and lacks the leadership needed to communicate a coherent and effective message that will be heard and appeals to all, as was done during the Civil Rights era.

Crossing the Dividing Line

“Character, not circumstances, makes the man.” – Booker T. Washington

Brian and his family now live in an area that he would be wary to cross during his high school years, in Hanover County, Virginia. He shared that there are still parts where he would not live and does not feel welcome, however it has improved over time. Now, we can walk (or run) to each other’s homes. As we talked, I was reminded how important it is for each of us to value each interaction we have and that we have to be conscious of them. How we communicate matters. Brian is always eager to give you his shirt off his back and make you feel that you belong. And I think the reason is that his circumstances led him to believe he did not belong, and rather than shut people out, he flipped the script with humility and confidence, and let them in.

In addition to the Richmond Half Marathon in 2014, one of the experiences we both shared as Dads was through a program at the YMCA called Indian Princesses (Y-Princesses) where Dads and Daughters have incredible weekend camping trips within our tribes. I know for my daughters, both fondly remember those times and I can remember vividly my youngest daughter, Zoe, telling me she wanted to do Indian Princesses forever. Trust me, we go back there in our treasure of memories often.

Some of the Shawnee Tribe on a Longhouse Weekend with Indian Princesses Program

For Brian, he shared it was the best experience as a Dad which also allowed for a more integrated experience with others unlike himself. It opened up a new world for him and his daughter Brianna, including just the mere fact they were camping. And he was one of the only two black people there; he did not mind in the least. It also prompted Brianna and Regina’s involvement with Camp Hope, which is a faith-based organization that serves vulnerable and underprivileged children who would otherwise never have an opportunity to experience summer camp, to see outside their circumstances and remind them they are loved like crazy and were created for a good purpose.

As for our community in Hanover County, Virginia, it has been the best for Brian, Regina, and Brianna. He sees neighbors and the friends they have made truly engage and care for one another. There is an instinctive intention about getting to know each other, which is healthy. And after all the years of not feeling equal, he now certainly does and his view of white people has changed, as he is more empowered, accepted, and self-confident.

It Ain’t So Hard to Do if You Know How

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” – Maya Angelou

So why did you start riding bikes so much, Brian? It was because he was asked. One of his friends at work, Scott Lodder, (who was white) rode to work each day. He asked Brian to ride with him and they committed to each other to do so.

He asked as Brian did with me. To let me know that I belong.

Find that common ground, and go spend time there. We all can do it. When we talked about what brings people together, for him it is being active and sports. It serves as the great equalizer and confidence builder. His daughter played volleyball and swam throughout her school years with lifetime friendships in which to look forward. We both know the running community brings people from all backgrounds together and experienced firsthand the heart-pounding thrill that it encompasses.

Brian with some of his work colleagues, spending time on common ground

So, why can’t it be this way all the time?

I think it is important for all of us to recognize that these issues don’t go away on their own. Just as the past has yet to pass, it is never dead and it takes a lot to deal with, cope, and work through. For us all to be on the same side for racial equality, we don’t do that by self-segregating, rather by forging an interdependence with one another as we all have to engage or progress will stall and/or not be made at all.

I read an insightful interview on this subject with Misty Copeland, who became the first black ballerina named as a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre in 2015.

She said that her awakening to racism came she was about five, accompanying her parents on a business trip to the historic Chamberlin hotel in Old Point Comfort, Virginia. While they were attending a function, she was put in the care of a black babysitter who, when she took her downstairs to the restaurant for dinner, wasn’t allowed inside. She showed the waiter what she could have off the menu, then retreated to a discreet corner of the lobby where she could keep an eye on her. She shares that she will never forget sitting alone in that huge, fancy dining room not understanding why her babysitter was kept out. She never saw this before and was so upset.

She stayed awake so she could ask her mom about it.

She brilliantly said to her: “All human beings are equal in God’s eyes,” she said, “and things are changing in this country.”

Her Mom couldn’t have imagined that an Irish Catholic (John F. Kennedy) like herself would be elected president in a couple of years, let alone an African-American (Barack Obama) 48 years after that.

Her message is that things have changed—a lot—but not always for everyone and not always enough. We still struggle.

Yet, let us keep in mind, and what too often gets lost, is that human beings are far more alike than they are different. A mother in the Kalahari weeps for a sick child the same way a mother weeps in Finland. A Chinese father’s pride in his son is no different than an Italian father’s pride in his. Underneath the cosmetic differences, our hearts are the same. It is culture more than race that divides us, and cultures can be understood and differences celebrated. There is really only one race, the one we all belong to equally. So let’s keep talking, and sharing. It’s gotten us this far, which is a long way from that dining room in Old Point Comfort.

Or experiences growing up in Richmond, Virginia.

It is amazing what can happen when you simply ask, who knows, you may get along. My experiences growing up in Asia and since have taught me that we have more in common than not. Having these heart-driven conversations and sharing these stories I hope lifts us all to a higher plane to remind that we all #bleedasone.

Being a kid of the ’80s (of course I listened to The Doobie Brothers), I wanted to leave us all with this. Music certainly inspires and connects all of us, and nothing like singing from the same sheet of music, no matter where we are as we cross more invisible dividing lines.

(Credit: Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music, born from the shared belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. The primary focus is to record and film musicians performing in their natural environments and combine their talents and cultural power in innovative videos we call Songs Around The World.)

Thank you Brian for sharing your story with us, and reminding us that we all can belong and be who we are, and to find that common ground, just ask.

Taking some time to share and learn, we ditched the scooters and walked

All of us, we can be takin’ it to the streets.

Always by Your Side

Elliott’s first race, the Monument Avenue 10K in 2002

Say that again, what happened? I wanted to laugh but my lungs were needed for breathing.

It was one of the early in the training cycle long runs on a hot Saturday morning in Richmond, Virginia in the summer of 2015. There are many summer days in RVA that can be best described as having a hot wet towel over your head while running on a treadmill in the sauna. During this 8, 10, or 12 miler (my memory faded on the distance that day with the steam that was coming off my head) one of my training team coaches I had recently met, Elliott, ran up next to me and had a good story for me to help pass the miles, and keep my mind off the struggle.

He spent months training for a marathon that was taking place in Utah and on the plane ride out there and within 24 hours of the start, a baby in the seat in front of him sneezed in his direction. Dang! You know what happens next, he starts the race the next day and about halfway through is all stuffed up and can’t breathe, it was the only marathon that he could not physically finish. Months of training down the drain, or thrown out with a Kleenex. The headline could read: “A runner’s dream blown away by the sneeze of a baby!” or “Ahhhchooooo! No 26.2 for you.”

Not the only out of the ordinary experience either, while running the Chicago Marathon in 2007, all of a sudden helicopters appeared overhead and authorities were on loudspeakers telling everyone to get off the course, and the marathon is off. Why? It was the hottest October 7th Chicago had ever seen, medical tents along the course were overwhelmed and people were being taken by ambulance due to dehydration. All that training, however grateful he could run another day.

What did he do after those experiences? Just kept going and getting stronger as he always does. And there are more Elliott stories that kept me going just like that.

I met Elliott Rose in the Summer of 2015 when I joined the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team in Richmond, Virginia. I did not know what I was getting into, other than I knew how I wanted it to end. It was something way out of my comfort zone, yet I knew it would be worth it. All 26.2 miles of it. What goes into preparing for a marathon is anywhere from 500-700 miles of training over 20 plus weeks of running. Getting to know Elliott, my other coaches, and my teammates that year is a time I will always treasure, and I learned to enjoy the journey and take a chance, and follow my heart.

Me and Elliott after one of my first long training runs in 2015, before I knew better and should get some lighter clothes

We have kept up with each other over the years and from our conversations over the many miles we have run as one, I knew having a heartfelt conversation with Elliott and hearing his story would provide understanding and perspective that serves to bring us together.

It was on a dirt road in McKenney, Virginia

One main road goes through this town, Route 1, which also served as the racial dividing line.

For Elliott and his siblings, namely Wayne, Roderick, Victor, Ronald, Marcus, Katrina, Alesia, and Jackie, life in rural McKenney transformed during their childhood years and integration. The end of a dirt road through the woods led to the home of their parents, Edward and Sallie Rose, which was originally Elliott’s maternal great grandparents home.

Elliott with all his siblings

Since many of us have trouble keeping track of nine pairs of socks, to help with the math above, there were nine of them, one house, with six boys and three girls. When it came time for Halloween, they went to one house to trick or treat. Guess they were all not up too late with sugar running through their veins! Their wood heated home had electricity however no sockets and no plumbing; they would use the outhouse. However they would bring a bucket inside during the winter to reduce the chilling effect of a winter night’s walk to the outhouse.

Elliott is very close with his siblings and his family also experienced the sorrow of losing his brother Marcus to a bad pneumonia when he was seven months old (Elliott was 12); he does remember his brother well. Elliott also recently lost one of his brothers, Victor, in December 2018, who died suddenly (far left in picture above).

He reflected on his times with Victor, who was a few years younger. Smart guy, he was on the Dean’s List at Virginia State University. His love of cars manifested itself with a career as a mechanic for Goodyear. He and Elliott shared a love of jazz music and would often go to concerts together and spent countless hours spinning vinyl in their little apartment on the northside of Richmond in the early 1980’s, tube socks included. I can see it with my eyes closed. His coworkers spoke sincerely and highly of him at his funeral and reinforced to Elliott that he impacted more lives than his family knew.

Elliott loved all his siblings and admits he wasn’t always the best big brother, he knew he tended to be selfish and a little hot tempered. Over the years, he has realized that having them by his side, he would have it no other way.

Mom and Dad, leading with love and by example

His Mom and Dad worked hard, and taught them there are no substitutes for determination and doing well in school to get a good education. In fact, his Dad invested in a set of Encyclopedias and Elliott read. them. all. I am intimidated just by looking at them in their binders covering the full lengths of several bookshelves, and he opened every one of them and read them cover to cover. He soaked it all in, the knowledge and wisdom from others, that would serve him well in the years ahead.

“Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example, not his advice.” – Charles Kettering

During his childhood, his Dad built their house in McKenney on his own from reused materials from an Army barracks (Camp Pickett) and they moved to that home when he was eleven. With one bathroom now, I asked him if his parents used a signup sheet outside the door for all to use. His Mom is still living there, with treasured memories of them all together. Sadly, his Dad, Edward Rose passed away in October 2018.

His parents, Sallie and Edward Rose in front of the house his Dad built

Sallie Rose, Elliott’s mom not only gave birth to nine children, she is always there for each and every one of them. A great cook (Elliott has told me that part of the reason he runs so much is so he can enjoy his Mom’s cooking), very outgoing, loves people, and a strong woman of faith who loves God. When Elliott there has been a crisis in his life, his Mom is there, not necessarily with the solution rather reassurance that ‘it’s gonna be alright’ that eased the pain. When her husband died, she lost the love of her life however she loves her children so much, and with that and her faith in God, she keeps her going.

Elliott had a great father, and when I asked about him I could tell how much it meant to him to be blessed with the parents from which he entered the world. He was a self made man, and built that home from scratch with repurposed materials from an Army barracks; he mixed concrete to make the sidewalks, hung drywall, did plumbing and made cabinets. Never deterred from rolling up his sleeves, he also worked on cars and was the town barber. To make sure his family was kept warm in the winter months, he would cut trees so for the wood to heat the house. To be the example, he would have all of his sons with him to help and they would haul the wood back to the car or truck to bring it home. He was a no nonsense disciplinarian but it was always done from the standpoint of love to give his children boundaries. Not much of a talker, action does the talking, and he taught Elliott what having a solid work ethic looks like and was the ultimate role model. Elliott loves how he treated his mother with respect, knowing his Mom is emotional and would sometimes get upset with him however he never recalled his Dad raising his voice to her. His Dad was always well groomed and Elliott knows that rubbed off on him; he also developed his deep love of sports from his Dad. One of his earliest memories was him buying a baseball glove and ball and them playing catch, he loved baseball.

I like to say we all have fathers, and then we have a Dad. You certainly had a great Dad, Elliott.

School Segregation to Integration, First Job, Most Impactful Moment, Being a Dad, and Heartbreak

Their school was integrated when Elliott was in the 7th grade, before that life in McKenney was separated as that dividing line down Route 1 going through the middle of town. When we talked about his first experience with white people, it was working in the tobacco fields when he was eight years old. They would work from 7am – 7pm and would be fed lunch. The family that owned the farm had grandkids and they said to them they were not to play with the black kids working on the farm.

As a kid I grew up in a multiethnic country in Asia, I don’t get this. During the age of innocence, why can’t we just let kids be themselves? Usually when we do adults learn something and it brings us together.

Meanwhile at school, there was tension during that first year of integration and then it eased with each passing year. Elliott’s love for sports led him to basketball (his first love) as he was into that (and girls) as a high school student. His Dad did not encourage relationships with white people, and was taught not to trust white people. That said, his Dad did experience true racism himself growing up, though he softened over the years. His Mom and grandmother were softer about him being around whites during his childhood.

Elliott was becoming of age to learn by experience, and his first job was at K-Mart. Somehow I can see him running down the aisles then getting on the bullhorn to announce the next blue light special, now we call them flash sales. What a trendsetter, K-Mart. His boss who was white became his best friend and they kept in touch long after the blue lights had been turned off. So, his wall of mistrust in regards to white people was being torn down.

After obtaining an Associates Degree, Elliott spent twenty nine years in public service with the City of Richmond, and presently works for the Commonwealth of Virginia part-time.

His most impactful moment was when he became a Christian when he was 34. He dove right in and lives out his faith each and every day.

I love sharing and learning with other Dads, and Elliott is a father to a son and daughter. Though he and their mother were engaged, things did not work out and they parted a year after his birth; they also experienced a miscarriage a year before his son was born. His son, Brian, and him have evolved from father/son to father/son/friend as adults. Through all the tumultuous years of litigation, he and Brian were always close and decided to live with Elliott full time when he was 15. He loves him with all his heart and is very proud of the man he has become.

With his son, Brian

Elliott also experienced pain and anguish of parenthood, as he also had a daughter that passed when she was 4 months from SIDS. He fondly remembers her and Kaylynn would have been 27 this year (pictured below).

What would MLK think?

As we shared about our faith, we talked about how skin color is just that, skin deep and cosmetic. It pains us both to talk about all the pain, hurt, and anguish that have come to mankind over something so genetically unimportant and contradictory to the lesson of loving our neighbors; and that we all are worthy regardless of skin color.

As we talked about race and how it has impacted him in America, he conveyed that if he had been a victim or racism, it was not overt and he does not know it. There was a time where he was noticeably the only black person at a running get together with other friends, he noticed it however as time has gone on he does not think about it. Though he has dated interracially and has been on the receiving end of some stares, Elliott shared he has felt more racism from black people towards him. From his first boss at K-Mart to the people who got him into running, he has had great experiences with people of all backgrounds being by his side and helping him.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King

From the ability of the two of us to have a heart driven and honest conversation borne from respect and love for each other as human beings, he feels that America is not the racist nation that many people make it out to be. It seems that those that do, are the loudest and are perpetually driven by anger and outrage. We have both experienced that this condition is not healthy for anyone, and if anyone reading this needs a prompt on why, read these insights on how addiction to outrage can ruin your life.

As we talked about what Martin Luther King stood for, transported to today, where he wanted to see a nation where people were not judged by the color of their skin, rather by the content of their character, Elliott conveyed that he likely would not recognize the message he got across and that resonated with our country. He also has a grandparent who he is inclined to believe was white, his paternal grandfather, who is a part of who he is and thus it pains him to see how politicians and many in the media like to keep things divisive and stirred up when they could be focused on what brings us together. However, he shared if that became the case, and people had each other’s backs and ran by their side no matter what, many of them would not have a cause and therefore don’t want a solution.

“It doesn’t matter how smart you are unless you stop and think.” – Thomas Sowell

The evidence for Elliott was right before him, and his family modeled to him the importance of hard work, determination, and education and what it takes to make an impact in your life. Two of his sisters are now with the CIA, a brother is a police officer, and another brother a graphic designer. He knows there is much right about America, and acknowledges there is work to do as well, as there always will be.

From running in City Basketball Leagues to Running the City

It starts with all of us, someone asks. Being a varsity basketball player in high school, Elliott kept that going and played in the city leagues around Richmond. A friend of his who worked with him at the City of Richmond (we still think of you as the unofficial mayor, Elliott) asked him to run the Monument Avenue 10K one year, to that point he would just run on the treadmill to keep in shape for basketball. He agreed a year later and started training by seeing if he could run for 30 minutes.

I know he could dribble the ball the entire 26.2 miles!

After that first race, he fell in love with running. He then transitioned to marathons because his good friend, Mark Buckland, asked him. Twenty years later, he is still going strong and encouraging others by being a coach with Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. I know first hand I would not have dreamed I could run 26.2 miles had I not had Elliott, my other coaches, my #wolfpack, and teammates running by my side. We had each others’ backs during training and through the finish line.

Looking Inward and Actions Outward

“I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.” – Booker T. Washington

Since we all bleed as one, I asked Elliott what he would encourage us all to do to bring us together, and it comes down to looking at our own hearts, taking stock with humble reflection, and acting outwards. He is tired of everything having a racial connotation to it, when there should not be one, we are all people.

He feels that black people need to stop blaming racism, using it as a crutch, and address your family issues by being there. For whites, to stop pacifying and having guilt. Day to day we do this, and it is apparent in his relations with people from all walks of life. However social media and the news is where the divisiveness is evident. For example, where else can a story such as Oprah Winfrey or LeBron James happen other than America? We need to look at things deeper than the color of our skin, and not be preoccupied with everything being about race.

For all of us, can you think of a time or two when we went outside for a solution when you should have gone inward? Your circumstances may be challenging to say the least, however it became apparent through our conversation that blaming them is not the solution. Nor is neglecting them.

Real change is an inside job, and the heart of the matter is, and always will be, the matter of the heart.

“Create in me a new heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

Let’s Run by Each Other’s Side

Imagine a world where we all had each others’ backs, no matter what. Disagreements are fine and respected, with the realization that it does not take anything away from the value you are as a person. Where who we voted for would not divide families and friends, but rather be an example of our love for freedom to do so. Where we learn from each other through authentic conversations where we listen and see through each other’s eyes. That the streets we run, gather, or live, don’t have any meaning other than we are neighbors. A world where we know that skin color is only skin deep and we do bleed as one.

Running long distances with Elliott and others has taught me something I have shared previously, namely:

What I have learned as I have run longer and longer distances transcends running. There is the importance of encouragement and having others around you; lightening the load and letting go, throwing off what is holding you down; perseverance as a good mind and heart are a formidable combination; keeping your eyes on what’s ahead of you, just as important as finishing the run in my mind; faith of how amazing it can be when we step into the unknown, with full confidence that God will not let you go; and trusting others who have gone before you in more difficult circumstances that inspire you to keep going and not lose heart.

As a Marathon Training Team coach, Elliott runs several times a week with others and during long training runs would speed up or slow down to run by all our team members’ sides.

This is where to find him most mornings, and he loves it

This exemplifies him perfectly, and I am grateful for friends like him, who will always run by your side no matter your pace or place in life.

How about we all do that for each other, and for ourselves.

Thanks for being by my side buddy, let’s keep doing it!

How the Colors We See can Blind Ourselves

Solving complex issues and thinking fast comes in handy, especially when you are in potentially life threatening situations. For my friend Anthony Jackson, it’s second nature to him. He thrives at it, and uses this ability to serve us all, while wearing a bulletproof vest to work.

This time he did not need it, as the only threat was the unsolved phrase in front of him. The Wheel of Fortune bus came to Richmond in 2018, and Anthony was randomly selected to come on stage. No sweat, solved the puzzle with ease. Then invited for the next audition, 15 puzzles to solve in 5 minutes; was able to get through 8 of them. Then a letter inviting him to Los Angeles to be on Wheel of Fortune solving word puzzles with Pat Sajak and Vanna White; I’m sure he never thought his degree and career in Criminal Justice would lead to this.

Anthony on set at Wheel of Fortune, solving puzzles is not just for police work

Being Big Buddy Buddies in and out of our Comfort Zone

Anthony and I met at a camping weekend for Comfort Zone Camp, a bereavement camp for kids who have lost a parent, guardian, or sibling. Started by someone who lost both her parents, Lynne Hughes turned her pain into purpose where her grief became a purpose for children grieving. We serve as big buddies for these weekend camps where kids from all walks of life who lost a parent or a sibling in heartbreaking ways, and yearn for someone to understand, listen, and relate, can be reassured that scars do heal and they can grow from it all. Many camps we have spent together with our little buddies during those transformational weekends, and there is a ‘why’ behind it all.

‘Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how.’ (Victor Frankl)

For a Grandmother and two Uncles, how a Mother’s wish became a purpose

Anthony was raised in Williamsburg, Virginia with his parents Charles and Hope Jackson, and older sister Yolanda. He did not have a racial construct in mind while young, though he started noticing race for the first time in middle school. At Jamestown High School, the school being 75-80% white at the time, most of his friends were white or Asian and he felt welcomed and played in the school band, and would freely associate with anyone. He also played fife with the Colonial Williamsburg Fife & Drum Corps from 5th grade through high school. The organization was majority white, however he never felt excluded or different and was fully accepted. This is where most of his lifelong friends came from, and where a group of friends developed that have been in each other’s weddings, and they still travel together.

Off to the University of Virginia for college, though he became more aware of racism, his college friends just knew him as Anthony and he felt that he was never looked at differently.

As I learned more talking with Anthony, he shared why he serves others at Comfort Zone Camp, and perhaps in a broader way in Criminal Justice. It is for family that are treasured memories shared by his Mom, and the love for her and them.

With his parents, Charles and Hope Jackson

Anthony’s mom, Hope Jackson, was one of eight children and she lost her mother at the age of 12 due to a brain issue. Then on her 18th birthday, her little brother (Anthony, 13 years) died; he was undergoing a medical emergency and they called 911. Hope held her little brother until the ambulance arrived and then he went unconscious. She went with him to the hospital in the ambulance and he never regained consciousness, taking his last breath in her arms. Ten years later, when she was 28, she lost another brother, Troy. In a span of 16 years, a Mom and two brothers gone.

Unexplainable and unforeseen grief became fuel for Anthony’s ‘why’ to honor his uncles, Hope has told her son that Comfort Zone Camp would’ve been good for her and her brothers after the losses. She was the oldest of eight kids and the only girl; her youngest brother was just a year old when her mom died. She went to college a month after Anthony’s death and grieved on her own away from home. She took on a motherly role with her brothers and focused on that after their mom’s death, which a lot of kids do in similar situations. Anthony is named after his late Uncle Anthony.

With his sister Yolanda and wife Karen

Hope (and Charles), I just want to say you have raised an authentic difference maker of a son and he is paying it forward for you, his namesake Uncle Anthony and Uncle Troy, I am sure many of his little buddies at Camp over the years are grateful having crossed paths with him.

‘We build too many walls, and not enough bridges.’ (Isaac Newton)

Seeing the Blue before Black, and not anything else

Anthony has been in law enforcement almost 14 years, starting in March 2007 as a patrolman. He has been in an investigative unit more than half his career, split up over the years (2010-14, 2016-18 and 2020). He enjoys complex problem solving and serving his community, and received his Masters in Criminal Justice at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). I knew seeing through his eyes as a police officer, who is black as well, would help us all relate to each other better and have an appreciation and understanding for those that serve to protect.

It has happened to him, just being Anthony, driving in a neighborhood where it looked like he did not belong. He was stopped by a police officer and asked where was he going and why is he here. Because he is black. Anthony gets it, yet is so cool and calm, does not overreact. The issue is he should not have had to react at all.

As a patrolman he was assigned to predominately poor and minority areas, never affluent, and he found that they related well with him. Criminal Justice in his experience has more to do with economics than race, as it is more biased against the poor, which also tend to be minorities. That said, when one of his officer colleagues was told to come in a separate entrance at a home of a white citizen while doing some investigative work because he was black while the white officers could come through the front door is infuriating. They all stood up for each other and it was the front door or nothing.

If I were to have a #bleedasone hall of fame, that event is in it. Fist bumps to all of you.

Yet, as a police officer, Anthony’s experience is many tend to see the blue before the black.

‘I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him.’ (Booker T. Washington)

Handling unrest and the right to express

It’s complicated, yet understandable. People were outraged and what happened to George Floyd, and it travelled outside of Minneapolis. I spoke with Anthony on this subject, the strife and unrest coupled with being in law enforcement and being black.

Yes, Black Lives Matter however they should always matter and not just when talking about police brutality; he also noted that more black people die at the hands of other blacks. Anthony has also been told he should be ashamed of being a police officer, and rather than responding he calmly and confidently knows that we are all better served by having a diverse police force with people of high character.

Every law enforcement officer he knows, including himself, is upset. It was inexcusable what police officers did to George Floyd, including those who stood by and should have stepped in. When it comes down to it, we all should know what’s right and wrong and therefore have a duty to stop others from doing wrong.

What he has experienced in the wake of it all is other destructive reasons riding in on a trojan horse in the name of George Floyd. COVID aided in fueling the unrest however expressing anger in destructive way takes away from voicing anger in a controlled and productive manner.

Angry? Every right to be. Raw Emotions? Definitely. The question is how we can best express it all and where do we go from here; it has to involve constructive conversations that involve listening with intent to learn and respect, not just hear and dismiss.

In my mind the best and most recent example of how anger can be productively funneled and effective is when Jon Stewart went before the U.S. Congress to take issue on the lack of benefits for 9/11 first responders.

Behind the Badge and Being Himself

Anthony does go off -duty, and that is what many who see him with a badge don’t see. He is a husband, son, brother, volunteer, friend to many, saxophone player, marathon runner, and of course big buddy. He is more than the uniform, and what meets the eye. Too often we are all guilty of putting people in boxes and categorizing them, as that is easier than the relational work required in getting to know them.

He has gone on dates with white females and never been an issue; his first wife of 8 years was white. While her older sister was surprised when she first met him, her family (including her older sister) welcomed him with open arms; he was treated like a son/brother and were great towards him.

Anthony recently remarried this year and what a story, he and his wife Karen met in police academy in March 2007, just under fourteen (14) years ago. They were friends and though life took them down different roads, they came full circle and are together. They are a biracial couple yet love and friendship bleed as one also, Karen’s parents accepted him from day one.

Anthony and his wife Karen, note to self: find out where this is

There have been times when others tried to make them uncomfortable, and they handled it with grace.

A simple pleasure such as a meal out should be just that, without the side of a racial drama. They were spending some welcome time together at a local restaurant when a nearby table of eight started talking about someone being black (not Anthony) and everyone in the group did not realize that a black person (Anthony) was sitting nearby and within earshot. The wait staff came over to check on Anthony and Karen several times to make sure they were alright. The restaurant manager came to them and apologized as they were being subjected to others insecurities and racial tension.

As someone who has black family members that I love unconditionally, and being married to the love of my life who is part Cherokee Indian, this is both sad and infuriating to hear.

I’ll never do that, to just did, to something we all can do

It started when he was at the Police Academy, let’s see if I can run 3 miles in 30 minutes. When I asked Anthony about his marathon in 2019, knew it had a first chapter to the story. From 3 milers, to Monument Avenue 10Ks to Half Marathons, all getting stronger and faster with each. His first half marathon in 2012 and was over 2 hours (2:19:37), and then in 2015 he finished under 2 hours (1:57:07). Anthony always felt the marathon distance was asking too much, the training and how it is simply life consuming.

After getting separated in 2018, he decided that 2019 would be the year he could focus. He was running PRs in 5Ks and 10Ks and trained hard with Race Team RVA; Richmond would be the place for his first marathon. The summer months paid off and he crossed the finish line just over 4 hours. Got you 26.2, and he is good, no need for a marathon encore.

Mission 26.2 complete

As for something we all can do, how about being open and conversing with others unlike ourselves. Have those constructive yet uncomfortable conversations with an intent to listen to learn and respect, and it’s alright not to agree. We have more in common than we realize and in many cases give a chance to realize.

We can all use an Anthony in our life, one who protects others by serving others, and knows his why no matter the how. I know he has a heart for the brokenhearted and encouraging them serving alongside him at Comfort Zone Camp.

Thank you Anthony for reminding us that we can all make a difference with our differences, because we all #bleedasone.

We All Can Be MOre

When someone says ‘Give me 20′ or ’30’ for that matter, he gives it new meaning, routinely getting up anywhere between 2am and 4am, and gets it done. In miles. It is not uncommon for Solomon MOrris Whitfield to run a marathon type distance before going to work. He has heard it and trust me, he is not nuts. Just an ultra runner.

During our recent conversation, it came to me. ‘MO, you ran 2014 miles (before you do the math in your head, that is an average of 167 miles a month, and 5.5 miles per day) the year we met.’ At the time I had never run more than a handful of miles, consecutively. Not that the belief or desire to was there anyway. What we did know is that we connected, both of us were single dads at the time, born in the American Midwest, and I had started to train for my first half marathon in Richmond, Virginia. Our story is one of many others where an unfortunate tragedy brings people together.

At the intersection of tragedy and friendship, our paths crossed

MO and I connected through Meg’s Miles, a running group and compassionate community brought together by tragedy. Meg Menzies was an elite runner and was out on a training run for the Boston Marathon on January 13, 2014 when she was killed by a drunk driver. Her still pictures still move hearts. MO and I shared many miles together (on and off the road) and as we got to know each other, learned how much we had in common. We were single dads and now as husbands, we are always willing to be there for one another and share life lessons and matters of the heart conversations.

As the first conversation for this blog, I knew MO would be an inspiring story to share to help us all to carry each other as we look at ourselves to encourage us to Be MOre and, if you so desire, Run MOre too.

So you all know, when it comes to knowing MO, it’s the M.O. that you always capitalize the MO!

“Fearlessness means taking the first step, even when you don’t know where it will take you. It means being driven by a higher purpose, rather than by applause. It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart, more than when you stand with the crowd.” (Chadwick Boseman)

First experience with Racism, closed curtains and closed minds

MO is one of three kids, born to Solomon and Brenda Whitfield in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has a twin brother (Julius) and sister (Crystal) who is seven years older. His memories of Michigan are vague as the family moved to the Washington, DC area when he was six years old and settled in Springfield, Virginia.

MO (far right) with his twin brother Julius, sister Crystal, and parents Solomon and Brenda Whitfield

His parents encouraged friendships no matter who, where from, or neighborhood. MO went to Robert E. Lee High School, and being black and at a school named after a Confederate General, it did not bother him as one would expect. The school was quite diverse with many ethnicities and religions, and he was on the track team as a sprinter. His best friend was Indian, and having a mother who was multiracial (Black, White, and Cherokee Indian) MO understood who he was.

When I asked about his first experience with racism, he remembered it clearly; pain always prompts memories to the surface. He was 15 and was asked to the Sadie Hawkins dance, where girls do the asking. His date (Catheney) was Asian and when he picked her up, his date’s Mom said to her daughter ‘I need to talk to you when you get home.’ She was under the impression that she would be bringing home someone of her same ethnicity and advised her daughter that she should not be dating MO, and needs to shoot higher.

As you can imagine, MO was hurt and confused; made him feel that being black was negative though he is nice, got good grades, and is always. respectful to others.

By the way, Solomon and Brenda, you raised a wonderful son.

MO and Catheney continued dating anyway, however it came at a cost of emotional turmoil. They could not be in front of her parents, and he recalled that she would cry everyday at MO’s house as she did not see MO as black, she saw him as we all do that know him, as MO. For Senior Prom, they met at MO’s house for pictures as her parents refused to bring her; when he went to pick her up she was forced to wait outside and her parents had the curtains closed. When it came time for the after party, MO took her home to change, and after waiting 30 minutes, she did not come back out. Curtains closed, again. Her family viewed MO as inferior, and even writing this saddens, hurts, and makes me angry all at the same time.

Many of us have treasured memories of our high school graduations. For MO, it is bittersweet. He and Catheney were not allowed to speak or even acknowledge one another even though they dated most of their high school years. No hugs, or goodbyes. Her parents, with extended family there, did not want anyone to think she was with a black man. For MO’s parents, they would never put him in that position, and with his Mom having a multiracial background, race was not an issue when it came to who her son was around, ever.

“Hating skin color is contempt for God’s divine creative imagination. Honoring it is appreciation for conscious beautiful, love-inspired diversity.” (T.F. Hodge)

Justification Exhaustion, personal and professional

Off to James Madison University, and MO loved the four years spent there. He shared many of his friends made there were from the Middle East and he goes back to visit the campus with his family. I also have a son at JMU who loves it there as well.

As he came into adulthood and the working world, coupled with the introduction and now norm of social media, it is evident that racism still persists even though we all attempt to dismiss it easily. He is acutely aware that he always has to be on his best behavior because he is black, even when he has every reason to speak his mind, to put it politely.

For example, at work recently some of his colleagues were making fun of Juneteenth; again making him feel inferior. He shared with me that he has received racist Facebook messages, even some when he and his wife Leah started dating, which he ignores. The point, and something we all need to realize, is that it is incredibly exhausting to constantly feel the need to justify yourself and getting nowhere simply because of the skin color you were born with. It makes no sense whatsoever, yet MO understands this is something that is not inherent in anyone; it is taught and conditioned.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Nelson Mandela)

Being a biracial family, brought together and apart

MO and I met while we were single dads, and leaned on each other as we navigated those miles. We are ‘3am friends’ for each other, knowing that whatever time of the day or night, we are there.

Me and MO after a run

We are both married now and my wife Angela and I were grateful to be able to be with MO and Leah at their wedding in May 2018. He shared that Leah’s parents (Mom and Step Dad) have been very nice to him and welcoming, though her Mom was concerned about what others would say. However her Dad disowned Leah after she married MO, and he does feel to a certain extent some guilt as being the reason she does not have a relationship with her Dad anymore. Again, it is hard to understand yet this is what MO has had to live with and I admire how he rises above it all.

MO and Leah on their wedding day

MO also has two kids, MJ and Tate (12 and 10 years old respectively) and they are biracial; Leah adores them. He has strengthened their confidence by teaching them that they don’t have to choose which race to identify with, namely his or their Mother’s and that we respect and treat all as equals, and as for them it is more than fine to identify with both.

When talking with Leah and MO, I learn and grow as a person by becoming more aware and understanding. It has also prompted me to do something, namely have uncomfortable yet heart driven conversations that bring us together.

MO, Leah, MJ, and Tate

Always being mindful of situations, and is he still moving

We had dinner with them earlier this summer, and Leah shared that with MO taking on the challenging of running virtually back and forth across Tennessee (1,243 miles over 4 months), he was up way before dawn kicking asphalt. She would often be up anyway checking his Garmin signal to make sure he is still moving, as a black man running at night may bring unwanted attention.

MO is always having to be mindful of where he is at, at all times, including his own neighborhood. Recently he saw that his neighbors recycling containers had not been taken up from the street and Leah suggested the neighborly thing and take them up for them. He would have welcomed it however he knows if someone sees him do it, they may call the police seeing a black man going up near a house with empty containers. Having to constantly think through these scenarios is something MO is used to, and should not have to be subjected to it. He also knows it has opened his wife’s eyes and it directly impacts her and them as a couple.

So, what it is about race from through MO’s eyes that could help us understand more and bring us together?

MO shared that it is apparent that people do not take the time to understand where each other are coming from with an intent to listen rather than reply. He noted it is easy to call someone a racist and not realize that we all are a product of our environments to a large degree and racism is something that has been taught and conditioned. It can be undone as well, as Nelson Mandela has exemplified. Also, apprehension or fear of the unknown is not racism however, that said, we should not wait until something such as racism directly impacts us to speak out against it.

It is becoming evident that it is more about picking sides rather than having honest conversations, formulating your own opinion, and recognizing that differences are a good thing. BLM (Black Lives Matter) is a message MO agrees with, however he sees that the movement causes division and friction where one has to pick sides. It should not have to be that way. A better position for change is one of inclusiveness, for example it should not be blue lives vs. black lives matter. One can be respectful of both.

I have one of MO’s ‘Run MO’ running shirts, and on the back is a statement that serves him well, and us all, “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” That is what long distance running involves, and is transcending.

What this also says to me is that we should seek discomfort out of our comfort zones as we come together to be in a place of inclusiveness for change.

It involves having heart driven conversations, not with the intent to change minds, rather to understand, share experiences, and improve ourselves. We all are dispositioned to be stuck in our ways, and conversations with an intent to listen sincerely are often lacking, as we are prone to shut down others (many times using emojis and memes) and their line of thinking that does not necessarily line up with our own.

How a Decision to Run a 1 Miler became a 100 miler

It was July 2011, and MO realized that his life was one of inconsistency. Here, there, and everywhere from college through his now adult life as a dad friend, and family member. He ran track in high school and enjoyed the challenge of it, and how it served as mind cleanse. He got up that July day and went for a one mile run, and he was out of gas at the end of it. That was just the beginning of him proving to himself that he could be consistent at something where he did not need to rely on others. It served as a foundation to other aspects of his life.

Now, he has done that one miler 100 times, an 100 miler just last year. Numerous marathons, half marathons, and ultras are the norm. He just completed 1,243 miles over 4 months (over 10 miles per day average). There is no mystery to what he is up to before breakfast. In fact, I know if I try to get in touch with him after 8pm or so, forget it. Everyday, he is up early and out the door.

What has that one decision to go for a run in July 2011 meant? He has learned that in order to be passionate, you have to be consistent; can’t make excuses for yourself; need to be willing to adjust to changes in life; accept criticisms and shortcomings; and just show up everyday. Through his decision to keep running his mindset has toughened, he deals with challenges, setback, and goals with focus and leads through action and example, not words. It is not about having to do it, and all about believing in himself (and ourselves) that we can do it. You choose the ‘it’ you’re presently in or going to do.

Being inspired by the everyday, and it’s contagious. Instead of following who and what people consider famous, why not follow our own hearts? That is what Danny O’Donoghue did when he went to support a marathon and witnessed people from all walks of life supporting cancer awareness and was inspired by them going for 26.2. The elite athletes get the recognition, yet what we need to realize is that we all can achieve amazing and worthwhile goals, embracing all our differences and experiences to get there.

We can all follow MO’s lead, by starting inside ourselves to discover and build strength, not according to other’s expectations, rather to prove it to ourselves. As for Danny O’Donoghue, he is lead singer for a band called The Script, and wrote this song and story from his experience at that marathon to remind us all to stop trying to be famous for the sake of it, be you, and do something great.

That is Hall of Fame speech material.

Reminds me of you and thanks for sharing your life with us MO, and reminding us that we all #bleedasone.

Let’s Carry Each Other

Eddie!!  I knew the voice.  

It was April 2016, Dad and I made a journey back to Singapore together. When we first arrived there in 1975, we were simply hoping for a new tomorrow. We were scarred, and set out to make the best of it as father and son apart from my mom and brother.  

That voice, she has known me a long time, since I was nine to be exact. They are family to us. When we moved to Singapore she took me in as her son as she did with her own, Mohan and Anand, and Anand had not been born yet. It had been a few years since we had seen each other and we are just as comfortable as a family should be; yeah, and we look nothing alike yet we are the same. To Leela I’m still that 9 year old kid, adult sized now, in her eyes. I love it too, as it never ceases to amaze how God works to bring together lives across borders, cultures, and backgrounds to become family. And we are. 

Together again in Singapore

Me and Dad with Leela, Mohan, and Anand (with his son) 

He is always there for me and my Mom.  Our adventures over the years have carved treasured memories in our minds and hearts.  We are as close as our blood runs deep, he and my Mom got married in 1984 and I am truly grateful for my step-dad, I prefer to call him my bonus-dad. Max and I enjoy being around each other, A LOT. He served as a career public school teacher; he is a great builder, teacher, engineer, astronomer, sailor, and craft beer enthusiast. I’ve have learned much from him, the value of patience, desire to always learn, hard work, and being resilient.  Max also makes sure my Mom puts the recyclables, no not in the trash, in the recycling. 

together with Mom and Max

With my wife Angela, my Mom and Bonus-Dad Max

My brother nicknamed him Captain Planet, a superhero no doubt. It is a pleasure to live in the same city as his sister, my Aunt Daphne; a joy to be around her and her family too.  

me and aunt daphne

A visit with Aunt Daphne

The point of all the above is that people may notice that we are not of the same ethnic background. However that is certainly not what defines our relationship, rather it is our love and respect we have for each other, the desire and joy to be together and always looking forward to the next time.

It sure is hard to turn on the news or read much without there being racial divisiveness of some kind.  I find myself asking why can’t good and encouraging news get reported more often?

As I thought about something I could do, I reflected on my own experiences, relationships, and thought how about a place where that stuff is shared? Namely, stories that uplifted us all, from different ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds.  Akin to what John Krasinski did with Some Good News for eight weeks this past spring during COVID quarantine, however for racial unity.    

Rather than statements, which can serve as conversation stoppers, how about roll up the sleeves kind of conversations? It requires willingness to consider the perspectives and experiences of others as more important, in many ways, than your own perspective; unity demands communication, effort, and growth. It involves listening to one another, respecting and honoring one another, and being committed to not shouting down, attempting to silence, or not really listening to each other.  

That is what I want Bleed As One to be about, a place where street names or neighborhoods don’t matter, what we do or where we are from does not matter, and to serve as way to carry each other.  

What I have learned is that truly understanding and relating to friends and family from other cultures, backgrounds, and countries helps me walk in others shoes, and see through others eyes. 

And that is what this is all about; though we are not the same, we are one blood, and have one life with each other. So, let’s carry each other.

Could not find a better way to convey it more powerfully than this:  

Thanks for joining me!

Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much. — Helen Keller

carrying each other

We bleed as one,